Juan Escalante Continues Fighting for a Dream for Many Facing Deportation
Who are these “Dreamers” that risk everything for legalization? Who are these Dreamers that continue fighting day after day in the direst of situations? These Dreamers happen to be undocumented immigrants — from all over the world — yearning for their very own American dream. Thanks to President Obama six years ago, they have lived in some semblance of normalcy thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program that allowed immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive renewable deferred action from deportation for two-year periods.
While the program has been in effect, Dreamers have been able to realize their dreams and go to college, get employment, buy property, and do almost everything that all legal residents can do. That is until last September, when the Trump Administration decided to inhumanely rescind the program and kick it to Congress for a permanent solution. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said at that time:
The 800,000 innocent young people granted deferred action under DACA over the last several years are pursuing degrees, starting careers, and contributing to our communities in important ways. While I disagreed with President Obama’s unilateral action on this issue, I believe that rescinding DACA at this time is an unacceptable reversal of the promises and opportunities that have been conferred to these individuals.
Currently there are 800,000 Dreamers in the country, and these young people can easily be identified by the great work they do in many industries; their constant struggles to pass the Dream Act; their organizing in Washington and many cities across the nation; and more importantly when they share their dreams of others.
Juan Escalante is a Dreamer, Venezuelan, Florida State University graduate, millennial, activist, and defender of the immigrant community. He has a large following of over 17,500 on Twitter and recently moved to Washington, DC. He moved from Florida to more closely work with the people in Congress who have the power to change the lives of hundreds of thousands. We also often read his columns in HuffPo, Univision, and other outlets. He currently works for America’s Voice, which works to harness the power of American voices and values to implement a policy change that guarantees labor, civil, and political rights for immigrants and their families. Families like Juan’s. Families like all Dreamer families that face an uncertain future.
Juan clearly remembers that day in 2007 when he received the news that he had been awarded a scholarship to study at FSU. That same day, he took the required paperwork to complete the registration. But right then and there, they realized that he didn’t have the required documentation: Juan was undocumented. Feeling defeated, vulnerable, and frustrated he returned home with his parents, who are also undocumented. It was a huge blow to Juan, but it really affected his mother. As his mother burst into tears, Juan didn’t know how to calm her down. He didn’t know himself what to do. How to resolve the situation, how to make it right. But, he needed to get himself back up, dust off, and work to make it right for him, for many. “Everything will be fine, mom,” he told her.
How did they find themselves in this situation in the first place? Juan’s family were on standby to obtain permanent residence, but due to negligence on the part of their immigration attorney, they were left with an uncertain immigration status. Still, their case remains unresolved. Juan is not the only Dreamer in his family, as his three brothers are also DACA beneficiaries.
Juan didn’t say woe is me, but rather decided to get to work. At 17, he joined other Dreamers in the cause and began to raise his voice through demonstrations, peaceful protests, marches, and putting into action their slogan: undocumented and unafraid.
Juan and the other Dreamers began taking chances, risking deportation, to express the injustice of their predicament. If they wanted to talk to the local press, it was also at their own risk. “If the migra (immigration officials) looked for you and they happened to apprehend you, it was at your own risk,” he nonchalantly says. Going out into the street to defend his rights as a human being was something he could not do in his native Venezuela, considered one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world.
It was not until around 2008 — when he saw some positive results — when he understood that it was much safer to be active and publicly known, than to remain in the shadows and do nothing at all. “I did not want to feel like another number on a list,” Juan says, “that touched my life. I had no choice. I had to move if I wanted to stay in the United States and grow as a person.” The work of Juan, and of many others, proved fruitful as the DREAM Act was brought up for a vote in the United States Congress, but sadly Republican opposition derailed efforts in the House and Senate. But, the work continues, however, and Juan and the rest of the fighters are continuing their push.
For Juan, returning to his country is not an option. In Venezuela there is basically no food, people are starving. Basic necessities like toilet paper is a luxury. The infrastructure is broken, the government led by Maduro is more concerned about keeping power than keeping the lights on for the population. There’s absolutely no possibility for Juan and his family to start over in Venezuela. Not the way things are. Not when he’s been in the U.S. for so long. His family is no longer in Venezuela, they’re in Chile, Spain, and other countries. The only belonging that remains in Maduro’s Venezuela is a trunk of memories from when he was a child. Memories of happier times, memories of what used to be.
“I don’t know if my country has planned to receive the dreamers of Venezuela,” Juan tells us, “but I doubt that anyone wants to return. I belong to the adult generation of Dreamers, and Venezuela has no solution.” The situation in Venezuela has not just made matters worse for the millions currently living there, but has also changed the lives of Venezuelans living abroad, like Juan and his family.
Now, however, Juan has set his sights on righting wrongs, on fighting for the dreams of others, the dreams of his brothers, his own dreams. There’s no future in Venezuela so he must fight for a future in his adopted country, “I cannot cling to a country that has nothing to offer.”